Facebook released its facial recognition system almost ten years ago, enabling people to be recognized in photos uploaded to the site. Since then, we have seen the innovation implemented on our mobile devices and even on concert tours at airport border security.
The sudden omnipresence of facial recognition has disconcerting consequences for our privacy, and it will be difficult to roll back the technology already in place, not only because of the insatiable appetite for mass surveillance from governments and companies, but also because it actually makes our lives more convenient.
So when news broke that Facebook is developing brain-computer interfaces that would allow us to scroll hands-free through the ad-stuffed hellscapes otherwise known as our News Feeds, it was hard to feel a foreboding sense of déjà vu about a once new piece of tech becoming embedded in society.
The Power of Brain-Computer Interfaces
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are devices that allow interaction between your brain and a wired device which senses neural activity and interprets electrical signals into basic emotions, for example. Such devices currently can not plant thoughts and emotions in your brain, but they can help improve neural activity around nerves that have been damaged— a common example of this is a cochlear implant. BCIs can be surgically implanted or simply worn as a loose swimming cap on top of your head.
Usually, these tools are used to induce neural activity to treat medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease and tremors, but they were also used to monitor virtual objects experimentally in new gaming headsets.
But what do you think will BCIs work out? Yes, at a basic level. Scientists monitoring your brain and muscle's electrical impulses can assess how your nerves are functioning normally and how you might feel, but it can't determine why you feel that way. For example, when you feel hungry, the BCI will tell you, but not yet what exact food you want.
However, thanks to better artificial intelligence and machine learning technology used to understand more complex neural activity, they may soon be able to learn more. Today, companies such as Elon Musk's Neuralink are leading efforts to bring into the mainstream the software that once was restricted to clinical research. Facebook is currently developing technology that enables people to type just by thinking, so instead of typing Facebook's rant, you might just think about it and post it without lifting a finger or phone. Great.
Selling Your 'Thoughts'
Advertisers already have an opportunity to know who is interested in selling a brand. Some are so effective at targeting ads that they were suspected to be eavesdropping on them.
The data jackpot would be used to understand a potential customer on a neural level. It would mean learning about a person's most personal and sensitive information so you know exactly how they feel about an item.
If your neural data was combined with an organization like Facebook's cache of personal data, it would create an incredibly nuanced profile of how you communicate with the site. And as long as advertisers are willing to pay for it, you can be sure to collect the data to the fullest extent possible.
Nevertheless, it won't take place immediately. The non invasive version of this technology currently relies on the use of a neural cap that is very noticeable and linked to a device to interpret the behavior of your brain, but Facebook and Neuralink want to make this connection to a computer more seamless. In this case Neuralink aspires to build elastic threads which can be inserted into your brain to allow you to control your devices by thought alone.
Through supplying them with greater mobility, BCIs going mainstream definitely will help million people with severe nerve damage. But if it is introduced dramatically and our minds are all used to communicate with everything around us, the last remaining insulation of our privacy–our feelings–is likely to be lost.
Potentially Politically Invasive, and, Unrecognized
The pace of advancement of technology enables commercial BCIs to emerge in the next decade and will no doubt play a massive role in marketing the appeal of greater convenience in thinking things about. However, as with facial recognition, the current lack of monitoring and insufficient legal restrictions at both the commercial and federal levels makes it virtually impossible to reverse this technology for abuse in mass surveillance systems.
"There was nothing but a few cubic centimeters in your brain in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four." It'll be even harder to look out for fake news. Nothing was entirely eliminate the anonymity of the feelings, not even in the most coldest dystopian novel.
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